Monday, October 24, 2011
The meal began with a cutting board of bread served with lard and pickles. The traditional Polish platter, with stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, pierogis, and kielbasa:
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
From the NEW YORK TIMES:
A GOOD APPETITE
A Dinner Party That’s Warm, Welcoming and Meatless
Published: October 14, 2011
WHENEVER I wanted to whip up a meatless meal for company, I’d fall back on the time-honored strategy of pouring in the cheese, eggs, butter and cream to make everything seem festive and satisfying.
Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times
Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times
Instead of adding bacon to a dish, I would blanket it in runny Gruyère. Or put dollops of fresh ricotta on pasta in place of meatballs. Then I met my husband, Daniel, who doesn’t eat dairy products, and my occasional vegetarian meals often became vegan.
Surprisingly, the longer I have done without the cheese and cream, the less I’ve missed them — and the more creative and interesting those meals have become.
That’s especially true in early autumn. This is the traditional harvest season, when a head-spinning number of gorgeous fruits and vegetables ripen all at once. It’s when summer and fall converge; when the first tiny brussels sprouts, orange and blue pumpkins and lusciouspears meet the last of the juicy tomatoes and the season’s final, florid peppers.
Which means, it’s the ideal time to give a dinner party without having to rely on meat or dairy to make the meal feel like a celebration.
Instead, I like to wow my guests by frying feathery maitake mushrooms (also known as hen-of-the-woods) in olive oil until they are crunchy and brittle, and strewing them over a platter of creamy, coriander-spiked hummus.
In lieu of the usual chips or pita, I serve this with homemade sesame-studded flatbreads that bring out the nutty tahini nuance of the hummus. A nearby platter of juicy-crisp vegetables — fennel, radishes, celery — can be dipped or separately nibbled, and provide a snappy counterbalance to all that oily richness.
It goes perfectly with a dish of crisp kale to nosh on, seasoned with lime and chile.
Fall is also a perfect time for hearty, vegetable-based soups, especially tomato. Tomatoes tend to be mushy this time of year, just begging to be puréed into satiny sweetness.
To mimic the creaminess of many tomato soup recipes, I often blend softly stewed tomatoes with a grain, in this case, farro. It adds an earthy flavor, and body, to make a tomato soup with bona fide stick-to-your ribs inclinations.
Although I could easily make a meal of soup, homemade bread and hummus, most dinner parties demand some kind of centerpiece, a focal point to make people gather around and say “ooh.”
A savory, olive oil-crusted tart stuffed full of golden, roasted peppers, jammy onions and some freshly grated pumpkin fits the bill. I like to salt the pumpkin ahead of time to draw out excess moisture, though if you are pressed for time you can skip this step.
To perk up the caramelized intensity of the filling, it is helpful to fold in something zingy like olive or capers, or perhaps a good splash of lemon juice.No meal for company is complete without a special salad. Recently, I have become smitten with the powerfully bitter flavor of dandelion greens. To mellow out their intensity, I’ve been tossing them in a dressing made from sweetly confited garlic and topped with crunchy croutons. The whole concoction is vaguely reminiscent of a sweet-tempered Caesar with a funkier, spunkier foundation.
For dessert, most people are drawn to something luscious and creamy, albeit in this case without the actual cream. Coconut milk is an excellent substitute, especially when simmered into a thick, nearly candied butterscotch sauce to spoon over oven-roasted pears.
Finally, to round it all out, a few squares of bitter chocolate cut the sugar and provide a modest caffeine boost that stimulates conversation and helps your dinner party stretch long into the night. After all, isn’t that why you invited your friends over in the first place?